Expat Blog Interview April: Kayla – From Alberta to Munich
So, it's been a while but we're back again this month with another expat blog interview.
This month, we're talking to Kayla, who moved from Edmonton, Canada to Munich.
We discuss the important stuff. You know, like finding a job, making friends, being close to the ski slopes and the audacity of having to pay for water in restaurants!
So, great to talk to you Kayla! What was it that brought you to Germany then, and Munich in particular?
There's no single thing that brought me to Munich, it was quite an impulsive decision.
People ask: was it for a boyfriend or whatever but it was none of those things to be honest. I had never been to Germany so my idea was I wanted to live in Europe for a bit. I had done an internship in London and loved it, spent a year in Australia and I loved the idea of living abroad.
I definitely wanted to that again before settling down in Canada and so my decision for Germany was, quite honestly, I looked at a Google map image of Europe and I kind of thought, “okay, Italy, Spain, not the best economies, I can't speak the language, it'll be hard to get a job.”
France and the UK I'd already been to.
I wanted to go somewhere I'd never been and where I didn't know anyone, had no backup plan. I don't think I'd give that as advice to anyone but it worked out for me!
When you arrived then, how did you go about building a life?
When I showed up I had an Airbnb booked for three days and that was it . No job, I didn't speak the language, I just kind of turned up with my suitcases one day and went for it. With Canada, it's quite easy for us: if you're under 30 there's something called the youth mobility visa. (Note: This is similar to Working Holiday Visas for any Brits and Aussies reading this).
So you can go for a year and.. you know, get a job, travel, hang out, whatever you want to do. So I went with the intention of staying for six months give or take, but I've been here a year now, so… Yeah. That's longer than I thought.
Of all the places to live in Germany, you choose the most expensive, haha. But it's probably the most attractive city in Germany. In terms of cityscape and cleanliness and safety.
But Berlin's got a lot going for it. Düsseldorf, Hamburg, Cologne as well. Why Munich?
My choice of Munich was… well, when I did decide to move to Germany I was totally ignorant on the country, I'll admit that. I could not name you five cities in Germany for my life. When I was researching, a friend of mine had been to Munich before and said they had mountains there. I'm from Alberta, so the mountainous part of Canada. I love to hike and spend time outdoors, so I thought “I guess I'll go to Munich then.”
So it was a quality of life thing, keeping hiking and outdoor recreation close by.
One of my favourite things that I've found about Germany is that you can live in a big city but pretty much everywhere you're within an hour of really nice countryside. Somewhere where you can go canoeing or hiking or cycling or do some sort of outdoor activity. In the UK, the prettiest parts of the country aren't where the jobs are. But most of the major cities in Germany are quite close to nice scenery.
Yeah I know that is wonderful that you can travel for half an hour and feel like you're in a completely different part of Bavaria. You can take advantage of the mountains: skiing, hiking, you know, whatever you want to do it's so accessible. There's even a bus here that I take quite often on Saturday mornings to go skiing in Austria for the day. It's amazing being able to travel an hour and find yourself in the Alps.
I think I'd go skiing every weekend too if I lived in Munich.
When I arrived, I was so stressed out. It probably took five years off my life, this first month of being here. You're just worrying about everything. But I think in hindsight I had it quite easy.
I had the Airbnb and then I met an Australian woman a few days later. We just randomly started having a conversation. She's Australian, her husband's German and she offered me a place to live in her attic! Munich is a very, very difficult place to get an apartment so the fact that I met a complete stranger, had a conversation for an hour, and she let me move in with her… that was very serendipitous!
Job wise, when I got here, I started looking up English-sounding restaurants or cafes. I thought, a Bavarian restaurant is not going to hire me, but if I can find something American or English sounding that maybe they would have me.
I googled “American Restaurants” and found a breakfast restaurant called California Bean and emailed them saying “Hi, I've got experience but I don't speak German…” I got a mail back the following afternoon and started working there as a waitress within the first week. Within one week I had a place to live and a job. Neither were perfect by any means but it was something.
When I wasn't working I just hunkered down, I'd go to coffee shops with my laptop and would apply for actually “grown up” jobs, so to speak. I'd sit in a Starbucks for five hours on LinkedIn and Monster and all those websites just shooting off resumes.
That's why it worked so well, I think. I was very motivated to find a job that would use my degree and my background. Within a month, I had an interview and then I started my position shortly after. It was quite quick in hindsight, how it all worked out. But that was me just hustling the entire time that I was here.
And I love that story because so many people come to Germany and whine on Facebook groups or on Toytown that it's impossible to find a job if you don't speak German, and they get a lot of rejection letters. Yeah, it is hard, especially if you don't speak the language. But some people just feel entitled.
Seeing what you've done, I just think that's brilliant. If you've got the persistence and the grit to do it, at some point your luck will change. If you have a strategy, then ultimately it’s a numbers game.
I think what really helped me is that I have had a lot of experience abroad before. I knew what I was getting into. You know, I moved out of home when I was 18 to go to university across the country. I've had to be totally on my own before, when it's sink or swim.
No-one advised me to go to Germany. It was me going in blind, but what helped was just knowing that I could give it my 110% and if it doesn't work I can always go home. Nothing is the end of the world.
Now that you've managed to get an apartment and a more stable job, does Germany feel like home, or do you think this is a temporary stop? Is going back to Canada still the main plan?
I think about this question quite a bit. Some days I could fully see myself, if not living here forever, then investing in life here. I always had the intention of going back to Canada but it won't be this year, or next year. I think within the next five years I'll go back, but I'll never say never. That could change, if you know, I met someone special. Your life can always change. But I think right now I'll go back to Canada someday.
When I started work it was on a six month contract, but now they've extended it and made it permanent. When my boss asked if I wanted to extend my contract I did kind of freak out, it was a big decision and I didn't want to live in Germany permanently, but on the other hand it was such a big opportunity.
In terms of travel, have you managed to travel much since you've been here? I guess most Australians and North Americans see that as a big pull factor of living in Europe.
I think I fulfil every stereotype for that! I try to go somewhere at least once a month. It's where all my money goes. But I figure I did not move all the way to Europe to sit and watch Netflix on the weekends. Even if it's just going to Salzburg for the weekend.
That's a really good philosophy to have, if you're in Europe for a finite period of time.
It’s so wonderful here that you get so many vacation days in Bavaria. It's ridiculous! I'm really trying to take advantage of that, because I know when I eventually go back to Canada and they say I only have two weeks of holiday, I'm gonna cry and ask them to bump it back up to five weeks!
You’ve been here a year now?
Just over a year, yeah. Thirteen months.
Right, okay. Happy anniversary!
Haha, thank you
So from being here for a year, from everything you've learned in that period of time to become a sage. If you were advising someone in a similar situation to you coming to Germany from North America, what three things would you give as the wisest pieces of advice?
Good question… Hmm.
First you have to go in knowing that it's not going to be sunshine and rainbows every single day. Yes, everyone here speaks English but if you start speaking English there is that… hint of resentment sometimes? You have to adjust to that. And just keeping a positive attitude.
I disagree that Germans are quite cranky and not friendly. I just think they will treat you how you treat them. If you smile and you're polite when you ask for help, then people will help you. Be nice to people, you can't just expect someone to go out of their way to help you.
Number two would be: have all your documents with you every single time you need to do anything. If you have to get an apartment or a bank account or a phone contract or whatever. Germany – as much as it's so high tech in certain ways – in terms of bureaucracy and administration they are still in the 1980s.
You need everything in paper, at all times, signed by every party. You could have the most important document in the world and they won't email it to you, they'll just send it in the mail!
So be very organised in terms of all your documents. Make sure everything is filed at all times.
And my third piece of advice? Probably just to just find yourself a community. As soon as you have that one expat friend it'll open up a while other community for you.
I know that sounds so cheesy, but really just go out of your way to make friends because it'll completely change your experience. If you are shy or you want someone else to approach you then you're not going to have a very fun time. But if you’re willing to go out on a limb and make the first step it's going to be a lot more fun for you.
You're right, as long as you're willing to make that effort and socialise, you’ll make contacts. They might not be close friends for life, but it’s easy to find what us men would call “drinking buddies”. Everyone who moved here as an expat who is single is in the same position.
Yeah, Stylight, the online fashion retailer I work for, it's 50/50 German and international people in the Munich office. We're an English speaking company so I think that makes it easier. I have friends who are expats but they work in German speaking companies, and that must be harder. But for us, we're all foreigners here so let's make the most of it.
The company gives us opportunities to hang out together, we'll all go to Oktoberfest together, or go on a ski trip together. It's really good for making friends if you can find a company that can fully priorities employee social benefits. As opposed to somewhere where it's going to be more black and white “work / go home”.
I find with Germans that because they value their private life so much, they can sometimes come across as a bit stiff in the workplace with their unwillingness to socialise, even if they don’t mean to be. Or at least that's my theory.
So we've gone through the three things that you'd recommend. Is there anything compared to life in Canada that you love here? Or anything that drives you nuts that you just want to scream at?
Yeah loads of things!
I love how cheap groceries are. Groceries in Canada are so expensive. I feel so luxurious here. Like yes, I will have that avocado. I will have this cheese, because it's not going to cost $10.
Also the train system is really wonderful. Canada is so huge that if you want to fly from one side to the other that's going to cost you 600 dollars, easily. Whereas here, I took a train to Berlin once for EUR 13. Just the train travel within Germany and all of Europe is a big reason why all of us from Canada and the US travel so much. Our countries are so big that we're used to paying an arm a leg to go anywhere.
I love the fact that in Munich, the minute it's nice outside, the whole city is outside. Everyone takes advantage of the nice weather and that's really nice to see. During the World Cup, everyone is at a beer garden watching the game and it's just a wonderful sense of community. I don't know if that's a cultural thing, or if it's just the way this city is.
What I miss about home?
I think Canadians. I mean, I have grown to love Germans but Canadians will forever have my heart. I have a few Canadian friends here in Munich and there's something really, really nice about when you get together. You don't have to try. You have the exact same set of cultural references, or jokes. There's that commonality.
I struggle that I will never understand certain jokes that they make – especially because I don’t speak much German. Also I miss certain niche grocery items. I miss all that random food you can find in North American grocery store. I miss certain things about that. They're absolute garbage for you, but sometimes it's nice to have more variety than just the plain Jane food.
My biggest pet peeve with Germany is having to pay for water at a restaurant. That I can never get behind. It's a human right, it should be for free! That's one thing I will not budge on whatsoever, is that I refuse to pay for water at a restaurant.
What do you think? Is Kayla right, or do you disagree with her comments? Join the debate in the comments below and we will bring you another expat blog interview soon!